During the American War for Independence, John Adams, one of our Founding Fathers, corresponded with his wife Abigail, and thankfully their letters back & forth have been preserved for us. They are full of humor, and history, and love. In one of them, John Adams closes with a prayer: “May God Almighty’s Providence protect you, my dear, and all our little ones. My … Guardian Angel whispers me, that We shall see happier Days, and that I shall live to enjoy the Felicities of domestic Life, with her whom my Heart esteems above all earthly Blessings.”
That was a sweet prayer of blessing from John Adams to Abigail. And our scripture passage for today contains another sweet prayer, from the Apostle Paul to the church at Philippi, that he loved so much. He really did LOVE these people. He said in :7 “I feel this way about you”; he said, “I have you in my heart”; he said in :8, “I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” So he really loved these people. And because he loved them, he prayed so much for them. And we too, will really pray for the people that we love. Prayer is surely one of the greatest indicators of godly love.
But what should we pray for those we love? Prayers can take many forms, but Paul turns around in the next verses and shows us what HE prayed for the Philippians; and it can teach us something about what we should pray for OUR loved ones — as well as what God is trying to work into our lives spiritually:
“For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.
And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ;
having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
I. Pray For A Love That Overflows
Paul says, the first thing I am praying for you, found in :9, is that your love may “abound still more and more.” This expression just “piles on” the adverbs (ATR p. 36) : “abound/still more and more” — a triple indicator that he wants their love to really flourish.
A.T. Robertson, the great Baptist professor at Southwestern Seminary in the 1900’s, used the word “overflow” to translate this word. We know something about “overflow” here in Brazoria County, don’t we? — probably the first thing many of us think of when we hear that word, is when the Brazos gets out of its banks, and overflows into the area all around! Many of us have suffered from that overflow!
But Paul says, in much more positive way, that he prays that their LOVE, as followers of Jesus, will “overflow” — a flood of water can hurt a lot of people; but a flood of LOVE will bless a lot of people! And he says: THAT is what I am praying for you: that your LOVE will just “overflow the banks” and spill all over, blessing many with your love!
And note: he was not saying that they didn’t already HAVE love; they did! But he was praying that their love would abound even MORE. They have “some;” but he wanted their love to “overflow the banks.”
It’s like what Peter wrote in I Peter 1:22: “You have in obedience to the truth purified your hearts for a since love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart.” Peter told his readers (in what is now Turkey) you have a real “love of the brethren” (philadelphia kind of love; a good brotherly love) but now he says, I want you go even further, and grow into a real “AGAPE” (sacrificial, Christlike) love for each other. He says you’ve got SOME love; but I want you to grow in it more and more, to a real, full Christlike love.
I think we can say the exact same thing here at First Baptist Angleton. There is a genuine, sweet, loving spirit in the church here. Many of us just love to be together — go check out La Casona after services and see how many of our people are eating together after church — and we do it virtually every week. We’re fond of each other! And that’s good. But Paul says, I’m praying that your love will abound more and more; that it will spill over the banks, and overflow! We have a great fellowship; we have a sweet spirit — but let’s “take it to the next level.” Let’s REALLY grow in love — BIBLICAL LOVE —
NOW here is an important question: what does it MEAN to grow in love? It is important that we really understand this, because growing in love does NOT just mean that you “feel good” about people. Love is not just a feeling! What does the Bible say that REAL love is? Well, there is a chapter in the Bible that talks about that, isn’t there? I Corinthians Chapter 13:4-8 gives us a full, detailed definition of what it really means to love, and many of us are familiar with it:
“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails;”
This chapter shows us, in a detailed way, what love is. And notice: there is not a “feeling” in the whole list! In the Greek Bible, in fact, they are all VERBS of what we are doing for each other, and how we are treating each other:
— Love means that we are PATIENT with each other. We don’t lose our patience
— It means we are KIND to one another; we do nice things for each other; even when we don’t deserve it; because that is what God did for us
— It means we are not envious of each other; and wonder why THEY got what they did; or who put THEM in charge; or why did they get THEIR way?!
— It means you don’t “seek your own” — YOUR way; your opinion; your preference — but you are considerate of others in the church.
— “Does not take into account a wrong suffered” means even if someone in the church hurts you, or says something ugly to you, or whatever, you don’t hold it against them.
— That sounds hard, doesn’t it? But it says that love “bears all things, believes all things” — in other words, they think the BEST of other people and their motives; not the worst — not “I know they did that to be mean to me,” NO; instead believe the best: “I think they just didn’t realize that would be hurtful.” Choose to believe the best.
AND the important thing to remember is, I Corinthians 13 was written to the CHURCH! We often quote these verses at weddings — and there is nothing wrong with quoting it at weddings; we need to focus on Biblical love at weddings. But we should also remember that the context of I Corinthians 13 is that it was written by the Apostle Paul to the CHURCH at Corinth; because they were jealous of each other; they were complaining about each other; they were dividing into groups against each other; and arguing about whose spiritual gift was more important than the others — and God had Paul write to them to say: LISTEN: NO GIFT YOU HAVE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR LOVE FOR EACH OTHER! “The greatest of these is LOVE” — that’s the context of these verses — it’s especially for the CHURCH. In the church, love is the most important thing.
So be patient with each other “in the church” (in fact, we could add those words “in the church” to ALL the qualities of I Corinthians 13, because that is who he is really addressing there; the church!)
Be patient to one another in the church
Be kind to each other — in the church
Don’t be jealous of each other — in the church
Bear all things from each other — in the church
Believe all things — choose to believe the best about each other — in the church
Hope all things — in the church
Endure all things from others in the church, (and do it with grace!)
And let your love NEVER FAIL — IN THE CHURCH!
God will speak more about this when we get to Philippians 2, about how to apply this kind of love by putting others’ interests ahead of your own — IN THE CHURCH! But for now he says in his prayer, he says “I want your love to abound more and more …” — in every area of your life: in your marriage, in your family, on the job — and especially in the church!
II. Pray For A Knowledge That Discerns
But notice it is not just love that he prays for, for the Philippians, but also in :9 for “real knowledge, and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent”. This is a GREAT prayer, for what Paul calls here, “discernment.” This Bible word (aisthesis) means to “cut through” the haze and really “size things up.” This is the only time this particular word is used in the New Testament, although a verb related to it is found in Hebrews 5:14, where it says that the mature Christian “because of practice (has) their senses trained to discern good and evil.”
A.T. Robertson says “the original idea is to test the things which differ.” So the word means to “discern,” to size things up; to have wisdom to tell right from wrong. That is what so many of us today need, isn’t it? We need to be able to “cut through the haze” and “discern” good from evil: good from evil theology; good from evil practices; good from evil decisions; good from evil friends and influences! This is a great prayer to pray for ourselves and for our loved ones.
We need wisdom today to discern right from wrong theology. There is much teaching today that “differs” from what the Bible really teaches — even from those who SAY they believe the Bible. But they do not believe that Jesus was both 100% God and 100% man; or in the Triune nature of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; or that we are saved ONLY by grace through faith in what Jesus did on the cross for us, and so on. We need God’s wisdom to discern right from wrong beliefs.
Just a few years ago, Benny Hinn stood before a congregation and gave them a “revelation” he said he had from God, that not only is there a “Trinity” of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, but that each of those three Persons are ALSO “Triune.” He said God the Father has His own personal Spirit, and soul, and “spirit body,” and so do Christ and the Holy Spirit. He said God told him “there are nine of them” (I’ve seen this video!). In it he told his congregation: “You say; I never heard that before. You think I’m here to tell you things you’ve heard for the last 50 years?” He proclaimed this like he knew something nobody else knew, and he was SO confident about it — and it was entirely WRONG! (To his credit, I believe when he confronted about it later, he admitted he was wrong, but the thing is: he said that God gave it to him as a “revelation”!) But it was heretical! And of course people were just sitting there, taking it all in; smiling. You can see it on the video.
Folks, we need to make sure that we don’t fall for this stuff; we need the knowledge of God’s word — another reason we need to read it every day, so we know the truth of what it really teaches, vs. the lies people will tell about it. We need to exercise discernment.
Now, there’s always people who say, Didn’t we just talk about how we are to love? Is it very ‘loving’ to talk about other ministers like that? Paul says, yes, our love is to OVERFLOW — but this verse says it is to overflow WITH “real knowledge and all discernment”! We are to love everybody, but in our love we are also to exercise a godly discernment. John wrote in I John 4, that we are not to believe every teacher, because “MANY false prophets have gone out into the world.” Too many Christians fall for things which are not true; we just can’t believe every preacher or teacher, everyone who quotes the Bible. As we see in Matthew 4 in the Temptation of Jesus, the devil quotes scripture for is own deceptive purposes. We’ve got to see past his deceit, and exercise wise, godly, Biblical discernment:
— Don’t believe every teacher who holds up a Bible
— Don’t buy every book that says “Jesus” on it
— Don’t listen to every CD that says it’s “Christian” music
Exercise DISCERNMENT. Ask yourself “IS THIS BIBLICAL?” Is this what the Bible says?
And this is true not only in abstract theology; but also in what we actually PRACTICE in the church. Last week I watched a few seconds of a video of a church in Florida that did a big stage production of a Beyonce medley in their worship service. (If you don’t know who Beyonce is, blessed are you!) But this church, in their worship service, carried a woman around on their worship platform, on a little throne, singing a medley of Beyonce songs — with lights flashing, singers singing — and I”m going, “What in the world?! In a Christian church? People say: well, it draws people — I’m sure it does, the church runs thousands — but the thing is, if that is what they are doing, it is no longer a church of the Lord Jesus Christ. I don’t know what it is; a night club; an entertainment venue? And there may be some good people there; there may be some true followers of Jesus there — but they need to learn discernment — what is right from wrong, in the practice of their faith and worship. People say “I’m going to go to ‘such-and-such church,’ they are doing some really neat things; they are getting a lot of people!” But folks, we have got to use discernment: are these “fun” things BIBLICAL; are they godly? Are they leading you down the right path ultimately?
We need discernment: in our theology; in what we put into practice in our church. We need discernment in choosing our friends and influences; for our decisions in life; for very practical things like that. We need, like this word means, to be able to “cut through the haze” of deception and lies, which look good and sound good — but they differ from what God says is right. WE need discernment — and those we LOVE need discernment — some of us would say that the people we love need discernment really badly right now. So we need to make one of our regular prayers to God, just like Paul did for the Philippians, that He would give us discernment.
III. Pray For Fruit That Is Genuine
Finally, Paul prays for the Philippians to be “sincere and blameless until the day of Christ, having been filled with the fruit of righteousness, which comes through Jesus Christ”
The word “blameless” here is eli (helios) krines (judge), means to be “held up to the light” and seen to be genuine.
Have you ever had a cashier in the store, take the money you have given them, and hold it up to the light? Why do they do that? It is a way of testing whether it is genuine. When you hold a real $5 or $20 bill up to the light, there is a watermark that shows up. But if someone has counterfeited it, and run it off on their home printer, it will not have that watermark. So holding it up to the light, reveals that it is genuine.
In the same way, Paul says, on the day of Christ, when God judges not dollar bills, but MEN — he says I want you to be able to be “held up to the light” of the judgment of God, and seen to be genuine. That you really are a child of God, and belong to Him.
How do you make sure that you are genuinely saved, and right with God?
It ONLY comes, as he says here, “through Jesus Christ”. Who among us can say that we will be “held up to the light” of God’s judgment on our own and come out well? NONE of us! There are “spots” and “blemishes” to be seen in each of us, aren’t there? No, the only way we can be made “blameless” in the sight of God is to be forgiven and cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. And that is exactly what He sent Jesus for. Jesus died on the cross, and paid for our sins, so if we would confess Him as our Lord & Savior and give our life to Him, “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7). So when we are “held up to the light” at the final judgment, we will be GENUINE! Really saved; really belonging to God, and certified members of the Kingdom of Heaven. Is that what is going to happen to YOU? YOU are going to be held up to the light of God’s judgment. What’s it going to say about you? You can fool me; you can fool the members of your family; you can fool the people of this church. But you will not fool the light of God’s judgment. It will show the truth. Make sure that you are going to hold up to the light of that judgment, by trusting Jesus as your Lord & Savior. If you haven’t done it yet; do it today!
AND here’s something else important: Paul prays in :11 that the Philippians will be “filled with the fruit of righteousness.” This is important, because when you have really been cleansed of your sin by Jesus, you will produce the fruit of it in your life. This is just what Jesus said in Matthew 7:16 “You will know them by their fruits.”
This is an easy to understand illustration that Jesus gave us. You know a tree, by its fruit. It’s like I mentioned last week, that we bought some avocado trees. Now if you were to ask, “How do you KNOW that they were avocado trees?” I promise you, I have absolutely NO idea. They SAID they were avocado trees! Mrs. Sandra was up there, so I guess I trust them! But the ultimate test is going to be the fruit, isn’t it? If It gives me avocados, I’ll know it was an avocado tree. If it gives me lemons, I’ll know it wasn’t an avocado tree, but a lemon tree. If it gives me nothing, it was piece of junk!
But we’ll know the tree, by its fruit. And Jesus says it is the just same with His followers. Just like people told me that is an avocado tree, but I don’t really KNOW — in the same way many people SAY they are followers of Jesus — especially in this part of the world where it is socially acceptable to be a Christian. They can’t do that in many places around the world, where Christianity is persecuted. But here, where it’s generally acceptable, a LOT of people claim to be Christians. But how do you know if they really ARE? Jesus says, just like those trees, “You will know them by their fruit.” Paul says you’ll be “filled with the fruit of righteousness.” If you really belong to Jesus, there will be the fruit of it in your life. What fruit — well that’s another whole message; but some of it is that you love God, and love to worship Him; you love the children of God; you love His word; you start getting sin out of your life — the whole Book of I John is about tests of whether you are a Christian — the FRUIT that you will bear if you really belong to Him.
We need to remember that, and discern with it. Too many times people say things like: “Oh yeah, they are a Christian; they were baptized and joined the church in 1968.” But have they been “filled with the fruit of righteousness”? Could you tell that they were a Christian by the fruit of their lives? And to make it more personal, can someone tell that YOU are a Christian by the fruit of YOUR life?
So we need to ask ourselves, first of all, am I a genuine Christian? When I am “held up to the light,” will I be found truly holy in Jesus Christ? And then secondly, if I believe that I am, am I producing the FRUIT of it in my life? Can people see the fruit of a real Christian in me?
And then, just like Paul here, this is a great prayer to pray for people you care about: “Lord, make sure they are genuine in their faith; and if they are, help them to be ‘filled with the fruit of righteousness.’ Let them SHOW by the way they live, that they really are Yours.”
So here’s three GREAT things to pray, for ourselves, and also for those we love:
— Pray that their love would overflow
— Pray for the knowledge that leads to real, godly discernment
— and Pray for fruit that would demonstrate that they really do belong to God.
Let’s take time right now to pray those things …